Version tested: Xbox 360
Around 15 hours into Sacred II, I check my stats. 2186 enemies defeated. 43 quests completed. 8.4 per cent of the main quest completed. 4.9 per cent of the map revealed.
A rough calculation based on those figures puts the full game's completion time at somewhere around 180 hours. That figure is a little misleading as I've probably been shirking some of the main storyline quests, instead cleaning up all of the side quests in each area before moving on. But you get the idea: a huge amount of content has been squeezed into Arcania's extensive environment.
That's before you take into account the six different classes and the fact four of these can partake in the light or shadow campaigns. Each campaign has a specific class, and each moral extremity offers exclusive content in the form of skills, quests and equipment. That's a lot of rat-punching, kobold-poking and spider-troubling. There's even an achievement, ‘Extremely Diligent', for completing only 40 per cent of the side quests.
This approach doesn't always seem like the best idea, though. It often feels as though quantity has been prioritised over quality in Sacred 2. Much was said about the original game's bugginess when it first hit PC, and many of those issues have been addressed here - but the lack of optimisation is still painfully obvious.
Frame-rate is the first casualty, especially when zooming out and stuttering through camera sweeps with obvious tearing in full effect. Character animations are jumpy and unnatural. The Shadow Warrior looks like Benny Hill during a dark costume phase, chasing scantily-clad high-elf nurses around. The Seraphim's half-catwalk, half-post-enema strut makes her repeated declarations that she has ‘Done my doody' all the funnier.
There are problems with aggro too. Some mobs casually saunter past before suddenly noticing you once you're half a screen away, by which time you're probably at enough distance to keep on running, forsaking the single XP which many of the opening areas' monsters offer.
At the other end of the scale are the frustrating escort missions. Never my favourite task, Sacred 2's escorts reach a new level of frustration thanks to incredibly bold NPC's. Even the meekest of maidens hurl themselves into groups of slavering monsters, only to realise how much shinola they're in and race back to you - often being cut down in the process.
As these are non-essential quests there's no option to redo them, unless you've had the presence of mind to save first. Targets for these quests are often annoyingly far away, too - they propel you into new areas but offer all the more opportunities for suicide runs from your frisky charges.
A general lack of polish pervades in Sacred 2. Every time I switched to a ranged weapon - using the innovative and otherwise effective face-buttons, modified by a triggers system -then tried to switch back to my main weapon choice of sword and shield (mapped to an unmodified A button), the unwanted bow, staff or energy pistol stuck in my hands. Even worse my character then became inexplicably rooted to the spot, refusing to move until I'd flashed up either the map or one of the menus. It's no gamebreaker, but it almost turned me into a discbreaker.
A lot has been made of Sacred's 2's humour, and a few lines of dialogue do raise a chuckle. However, as Will pointed out in his PC review, the quirky comments soon become grating rather than amusing. There are some nice cultural references here but many feel shoehorned in. When thrown together with some emo-goth babbling of the highest order about the power of trees and the mystical nature of being, it all makes for an awkward mix.
For a game which often has its forked green tongue firmly in cheek, there's a lot of traditional fantasy questing to be done here. I've spent most of my time killing set numbers of enemies, collecting lost items, delivering messages and rescuing a surprising number of wayward children.
But attacking Sacred for its bread-and-butter fantasy roots would be unfair. It offers some interesting new takes on the genre, such as the consistent mix of hi-tech and medieval elements - realised most obviously by the Temple Guardian and Stargate-style projectile staffs. The fact Sacred 2 is in many ways a very traditional game is not a bad thing. However, many of the traditions it carries on would have been better scrapped.
Aside from the legions of formulaic questlines, there's also the time-old issue of female characters' attire. I'm no prude, and have a healthy appreciation of the female form, but much of the pathos parts of the game tries to imbue is lost because half the characters look like malnourished strippers on their way to a bondage convention. All the shoes and boots which I came across for female classes were high-heeled, and a great deal of their 'armour' consists of tiny skirts, plunging halter-neck tops and throbbing, six-bladed sex toys.
All right. Not sex toys, and doubtless this sort of thing will attract as many - if not more - as it repels. But it does feel like time we graduated from the T ‘n' A school of fantasy. The fact that much of the character art feels like it was churned out by a talented and priapic 14 year-old detracts from much of the other pretty and imaginative design.
Fields of flowers and grass dominate the first areas along with golden beaches, murky caves and ruined temples. Typical fantasy fare, but well drawn and executed. The architecture often conveys a real sense of place. Enemy models are detailed and charismatic up-close, although there's a lack of variation between species. Zooming right in gives you a chance to admire these well-drawn models and smoothes the frame-rate a little, but restricts the range of your vision to the point where you'll miss a great deal.
For a game so firmly aimed at loot whores there's a shocking lack of inventory management options. The dozens of shinies you'll end up carrying cannot be rearranged, even manually. Despite a relatively reliable 'autoequip' function the reams of stats and bonuses conveyed by each piece remain a dark science - upon which neither the manual nor the scattered tutorials deign to shed any light.
Buying new equipment from a merchant is a massive pain too. There's no way to easily compare the gear on offer with what you're currently wearing - a basic function of RPG equipment management. What could have possessed Ascaron not to include such an important feature in a game so keen to encourage cramming your skimpy metal bikini with junk?
If you're a real loot addict, looking for a quick fix before Diablo 3 turns you into a precious-hoarding, daylight-shunning, subterranean Gollum, there are worse options than Scared 2. It presents you with a giant world, one that has some unique aspects and is generally seamless and deep. With patience, tolerance and a willingness to ignore all the problems and the awkward hokum, there are dozens - if not hundreds - of hours of playtime on offer.
Doubtless some will take up that offer, and will sink huge swathes of time into exploring every nook and cranny of this lush and vibrant world. Sadly, others will find it too hard to see past the pop-in, framerate, poor animation and niggling bugs. Had Ascaron reigned in the content a little, and polished a smaller game to a higher standard, the score below would have been at least a couple of marks higher.
6 / 10